loreto at sunset

11 amazing things to do in Loreto – Mexico

In BAJA CALIFORNIA, MEXICO by Isabella Biava2 Comments

Situated on the still untainted eastern coast of Baja California Sur, washed by the Sea of Cortes, Loreto is one of the prettiest towns of Baja California that you will not want to miss.

There are so many things to do in Loreto, which is mainly known for being one the first Spanish colonial settlement of New Spain, founded in 1697 by Jesuit Missionaries, and for the wealth of sea life along its coast, in the sea of Cortez.  

So much so that it is often called the “Aquarium of the World,” offering also one of the premier diving sites on the planet.

Both its cultural heritage and the deep connection with wildlife and nature that you can experience in Loreto, make it one fascinating destination to put on the map and, if possible, to spend some time and explore.

I have been to Loreto twice, the second time for about 4 days during my 2 weeks road trip around Baja trying to see and learn as much as I could about this unique spot in Baja California, v< world apart from La Paz or Cabo.

In this guide, I will tell you all about this still-off-the-beaten-track town that has conquered my heart, what to do in Loreto, where to eat and where to stay and, last but not least, how to get there.

Loreto Sign

COOL FACTS ABOUT LORETO

  • The Loreto Bay National Park has been established in 1966 to protect the natural environment and consists of the Bay of Loreto, the Sea of Cortez, and part of Baja California Sur. 
  • The Loreto Bay National Park has awarded UNESCO World Heritage Status in 2005, which reaffirms the  Mexican government’s commitment to protecting this park.
  • According to the Ocean Foundation ” Loreto Bay National Marine Park is home to:
    • 891 fish species, including 90 endemic fishes
    • a third of the world’s cetacean species (found in the Gulf of California/Sea of Cortez)
    • 695 vascular plant species, more than in any marine and insular property on the World Heritage List”
  • In Loreto, you can see the blue whale, the largest animal known to have lived on earth. They migrate from the north in search of warmer waters where to have their babies, from January through March.
  • Coronado Island is actually the crater of a dormant Vulcano.
  • Loreto has been proclaimed Pueblo Magico, a nomination given by the tourism authority to Mexican towns with significant cultural heritage and charm. The other Pueblo Magico in Baja is Todos Santos.

WHAT TO DO IN LORETO

Take a walk in the charming historical center

The charming and tiny historical center deserves attention and although you need just a couple of hours to visit, if much, you will enjoy strolling around and sit in a cafe in the plaza after your busy day on a tour.

  • visit the first Mission founded by the Jesuits when they first settled in Baja California, Nuestra Señora de Loreto, previously called “Cocho'”
  • right beside the Mission, you can find the Museum, which showcases a collection of the remainings of tools and decorative objects from the ancient civilization but also a brief summary of their history
  • take a peek at the local art shops and enjoy a cafe’ or a meal from one of the restaurants in the Plaza
  • have a peaceful walk on the Malecon, the promenade by the sea, that offers also spectacular sunrises
  • go visit the bookshop on the main road and say hi to my friend Janette the owner of the shop, a lovely lady with an incredible story. She also has lots of books on sale and amazing titles on local history and geography

.LORETO CHURCH

Take a whale watching tour

If you visit Loreto from January through March, you cannot miss this boat tour to see the blue whales, the biggest animal on the planet.

From 7 am through 2 pm you will reach Isla del Carmen where the blue whales are known to hang out. Once you get there the boat stops and you stay still silently waiting for those graceful giants to appear. They come, in and out of the water at a regular interval, they are many and you will never get tired to see them.

As a bonus, a gift from nature, you will probably see an incredibly huge pod of dolphins flipping around the boat. It was an amazing surprising sight.

There are many tour companies in Loreto that can organize the tour. They cost pretty much the same (around 105 – 115 USD) and with the same itinerary as they need to follow the park rules.

WHALE TAIL

Visit Coronado Island, Isla Danzante and Isla del Carmen

A relaxing day on the boat to explore the nearby island. You can join an organized tour or you can go to the marina and ask the fishermen there if they can take you.

In the three islands, the biggest in the Loreto Bay Marin Park, you can enjoy snorkeling around their jagged coasts or basking in their deserted beaches.

I chose Coronado Island, the most popular one.

It was a spectacularly sunny day although the water was chilly, not to say freezing.

We saw many dolphins along the way, snorkeled with sea lions, spotted some goofy blue-footed boobies, and enjoyed the white sand beach on the island. The crystal clear turquoise water was inviting me to swim but it was too cold and I had rather spend time staring at it.

If you are not interested in whale watching and want to enjoy the water you should come in summer for warmer temperatures.

SEA LIONS FLOATING

Go paddleboarding

I didn’t, but hotels like Villa del Palmar offer paddleboards for their guests, or you can check out at the Marina itself, where they rent paddleboards and Kayak.

Take a kayaking day or multiday tour

Kayaking is even more common than paddleboarding.

Local agencies organize either one day or multiple days tours with camping in Isla del Carmen or Danzante.

This is something that I didn’t do but I will keep it on my list.

IMPORTANT NOTE

if you care about responsible tourism and respect the environment including the animals that grace us with their presence, don’t do what this guy in the below picture is doing.

There were 5 of them on their kayak chasing the whales, and so disturbing their behavior. You can’t see it in the picture but the whale just didn’t know where to go as they were closing their way, besides the fact that it’s also dangerous for you. They are extremely huge a simple movement of her tail, so natural for them, could kill you.

So keep the distance from the Blue whales.

WHALE AND KAYAKS

Go diving in the Sea of Cortez

The unique climate and geographic features make the Sea of Cortez one of the richest marine ecosystems in the world.

Its placid and protected waters harbor thousands of fish and mammal species, as well as some 5,000 species of micro-invertebrates. 

Also, the fact that the Loreto Bay area has been declared  National Marine Park in 1966 has reinforced even more restricted conservation practices to preserve the environment and protect marine life.

Diving in any of the 30 dive sites of the park must be therefore an incredible experience. I really wanted to join one diving tour but the water was so cold while snorkeling that I didn’t even want to imagine diving.

So I gave up this time, but I am planning to go back in the summer and do it when temperatures are warmer.

loreto marina

Hike in the Sierra de la Giganta

Stretching from La Paz up to the Municipality of Mulege where it continues up north with the name of Sierra de Guadalupe, this spectacular mountain chain is the backbone of Baja California. Explorers and biologists have walked through its valleys and peaks to learn more about its local inhabitants and natural resources.

For us, humble tourists with maybe less courage and physical strength, it’s still possible to have a taste of this world with hiking trips.

There are many hiking trails for all sorts of levels of fitness and capabilities.

You will walk through boulders and discover refreshing oasis in the rocky deserts, and spectacular sceneries.

tree in la giganta

If you are passionate about hiking and you dare explore on your own, which I don’t recommend anyway, you might be interested to know that in the bookstore I was mentioning earlier, there is a book on sale about hiking in the Sierra de la Giganta, written by an American couple that has been living there for many years and has been exploring the territory.

The book has just been published in the new editions with recent updates. That might be useful.

The tour agents in Loreto can organize tours, however, I would recommend hiring a local guide, who knows his way around and can give you a private tour.

During my two weeks road trip in Baja California, I was recommended Roberto, a local guide who knows the area very well and is starting off just now with his own tour company Waate tour.

He’s a great guy who speaks good English and knows the territory very well and he’s really well connected. He can organize anything you will ask for and personally take you on a hike.

sierra de la giganta - natural lake

Visit the Mission of San Javier

San Javier is an oasis in the rocky desert, at about 30 km of winding roads from the main coastal roads, the views you get while driving there only are worth the trip.

It’s an authentic village in a lush and green valley surrounded by the red rocky mountains of the Sierra.

You can visit the old mission, take a walk in the surrounding nature, and taste local delicacies.

San Javier mission

Bask in the sun on one of the nearby beaches

When I was there, in March, the cool temperature and chilly wind didn’t really inspire me to take off my clothes but I regret not having at least set foot in one of the most talked-about beaches.

So please go and send me a picture.  Among the most popular beaches are Nopolo beach and El Juncalito.

Take a road trip to Bahia Concepcion beaches

At about 1h 30′ drive you will find a huge bay with about 30 km of a breathtaking coastal road.

There you have access to a couple of beaches inhabited mainly by retired Americans traveling on their motorhome. The beaches are free for you to enjoy.

If you drive further north you will find the pretty old town of Mulege also an interesting spot to spend a couple of hours.

view of a beach from the road

Watch the Sunrise from the Malecon

One of the most amazing sunrises I have ever seen was in Loreto. I arrived early for my appointment for the whale watching tour and there it was the sun, rising from the water in its splendor. The glowing sunlight has accompanied us for a good hour during our trip. It was magical.

On the Malecon, at that time of the day, you can also enjoy a good refreshing run or a nice walk at sunrise, the best time of the day to be there. Sunsets are also gorgeous and although the sun does not set right in front of you you still get amazing light.

Play Golf

Loreto Bay Resort and Golf Club is one of the few luxury resorts in the area and includes an 18-holes golf course with staggering views over the Loreto Bay.  Certainly a treat for the golf lover which can get the best of everything in Loreto right in one spot.

Loreto Marina - sunrise over the sea

HOW TO GET TO LORETO

Flights to Loreto Mexico

Alaska Airlines offer flights from Los Angeles and Seattle directly to Loreto airport.

Calafia airlines, connects Loreto airport with a few domestic airports in Mexico, such as La Paz, Tijuana, Hermosillo, Guaymas (Sonora)

Getting to Loreto by bus

From what I have seen while driving around Baja, the bus service has improved in the past couple of years, as I saw brand new sparkling busses along the way.

It takes about 6 hours from La Paz to Loreto, 10 hours from Los Cabos to Loreto and 7 hours from Todos Santos to Loreto. Quite a journey.

The cost, depending on where you leave from, ranges from 700 to 1000 MXN.

You can check the schedule on the transportation company site, Autobuses Aguila.

coronado island beach

Getting to Loreto by Car

Renting a car in Baja California is the best thing you can do and here below are the reason why.

  • the roads are super easy and well maintained,
  • the views you get along the way are spectacular
  • you can reach remote places that you wouldn’t be able to see if you travel by bus.
  • PARKING in Loreto is easy to find and free. On the Malecón (sea-front) there is always space available.

loreto shop

Where is Loreto, Mexico, located?

Loreto is located on the eastern coast of the Baja California Peninsula, right on the sea of Cortez, at about 310 miles (508 km) north of Cabo San Lucas and 360 km from La Paz. 

LORETO MAP

A couple of things to know if you rent a car in Baja California

  • The only aspect you need to take into consideration and pay very much attention is the cows and goats that you can unexpectedly find in the middle of the road. Those can be very dangerous and cause serious accidents. So go slow and don’t get too much distracted by the views. If you wish to contemplate the landscape, just pull over and enjoy it.
  • Distances are long and although there is good availability of gas stations pretty much everywhere I would suggest not to get too low on gas and fill up as soon as you can when you are below half the tank. You never know if when you really need to fill up, it will be just around the corner for you.
  • Make sure your credit card covers for your car rental in Baja. I was told by a car rental agent that not all of them are valid in Mexico. In this case, it’s better to acquire your full insurance with the car rental directly (not with a third party) in order to avoid any issue.

WHERE TO STAY IN LORETO

I chose an Airbnb because since I am always traveling I love to cook my own meals.

If you are new to Airbnb you can use my link to get a coupon code to use as a discount on your first booking. I will also get a small coupon as well.

If you are not new to Airbnb and you book through this link, I will get a small commission at no additional cost for you, and I would be really gratefull as in doing so you contribute to keep this site alive.

Otherwise, I would also use Booking.com to book my stay in a hotel, and sometimes homes, as they have a very user-friendly website and always the best deals.

Since I am coming from the travel industry and in my latest job I used to check out hotels and review them, I still continue to do it because it’s something I really enjoy.

So also in Loreto, I went to see a couple of them while others have been suggested by friends.

Here below is my list of options:

plaza loreto

POSADA DE LAS FLORES

My top choice.  This elegant hotel was an old colonial house, and has kept the same old architecture feel, decorated with fine Mexican art. It’s strategically located right in the historical center, by the plaza and offers sweeping views from the terrace.

Check rates on Booking.com – Check reviews on TripAdvisor

HOTEL SANTA FE

A good middle range hotel right on the main road close by one of my favorite cafe’ Sea Coffe.

The rooms are very simple and a little dark, but spacious and clean.

Check rates on Booking.com – Check reviews on TripAdvisor

HOTEL LA MISSION

Probably the most luxurious of all the hotels in Loreto, located directly on the Malecon at a few steps from the historical center For a world-class stay in Loreto.

Check rates on Booking.com – Check reviews on TripAdvisor

HOTEL LA DAMIANA INN

This is a tiny and cute bed and breakfast with a very Mexican feel, located in a very central but quiet area of Loreto. It’s been recommended by a friend but it’s always full. So make sure you book in advance as it’s very popular.

Check rates on Booking.com – Check reviews on TripAdvisor

.posada las flores hotel

LORETO BAY GOLF RESORT AND SPA

A luxury property at 10 km from Loreto town, located in a spectacular bay, and for the golf lovers an 18-holes golf course with staggering views.

Check rates on Booking.com – Check reviews on TripAdvisor

FOR MORE HOTEL OPTIONS CLICK ON THE “SEE ALL DEALS” BUTTON

Booking.com

CHECK OUT LORETO VACATION RENTAL ON AIRBNB

WHERE TO EAT IN LORETO

I have to be honest I haven’t eaten out very much, as I had a kitchen and I loved to cook my veggies.

The few times I was eating out, it was to go to a coffee shop and to eat empanadas and pizza 🙂 not very healthy I know but hey, I was on vacation.

However, since I have local friends I am still offering you tips on the best restaurants, as I have heard of.

Playa Bianca Restaurant right by the church, seafood, and ambiance.

La Picazon – world-class seaside dining, located right after the Desert Inn hotel.

Mi Loreto – autentic Mexican food.

Restaurante Mezzalunathat’s where I was going for my doses of pizza and empanadas.

IS LORETO SAFE TO TRAVEL?

Loreto is known to be a very tranquil and peaceful Oasis in the desert (literally as well).

It is very safe indeed, with a loving community of expatriates and locals that greet each other by name and share a common affection for this picturesque coastal town.

Just bring your commonsense with you when you travel and you are just fine.

By common sense, I mean simple things such as:

  • don’t leave your valuable unattended either on the beach or on the chair at the restaurant.
  • don’t leave your laptop or valuable object close to the window of your home.
  • lock your car
  • don’t show off your cash or iPhone.
  • just don’t be naive

I wrote a full guide on how to stay safe while traveling in Mexico if you wish to read more.

So, don’t worry and start packing. 😉

loreto marina

WHAT SHOULD I WEAR IN LORETO?

Loreto is a very laid back town and so is the entire Baja California unless you chose to stay in a fancy hotel in this case you might want to pack some elegant clothes, otherwise, a simple casual outlook is required.

If you love hiking, you might want to consider to carry good hiking boots and good hiking pants, and you will want to dress in layers.

Although sunny days and summers are hot, remember that we are close to a typical desert climate, with cold nights and hot days.

Mornings can be quite chilly and windy although during the day it gets warmer and it can reach high temperatures.

So, a windbreaker will be ideal.

Also as I mentioned before in winter the water can be quite cold, so if you want to go diving or snorkeling request a wetsuit to the diving center.

Also, it’s good to bring with you a good (ecofriendly) sunscreen, a nice beach towel, a hat, a camera.

If you are like me, you might want to carry your own snorkel as well, you know…

Last but not least: good vibes are always a must!

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Comments

  1. Great detailed post! We loved the Loreto area back in 2001-2002 when we were there on our sailboat. We can only imagine how built up it is now but still cool place to visit.

    Cheers,
    John and Susan

    1. Author

      Hey John and Susan,
      thanks for writing in. I am not sure how it was back then, but I didn’t have the feeling of overdevelopment as much as I saw it in Cabo or in Tulum these days. I hope they keep it as beautiful and peaceful as it is. Stay well! 🙂

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